Markets bobbed up and down Wednesday on widely divergent U.S. economic data. Investors spent the day dealing with conflicting influences: a less-than-enthusiastic housing report, on the one hand, and a view that the U.S. economy is improving, on the other.
Adding to the dynamics was continued pressure from international investors, who are moving away from assets that could be affected by a hard slowdown some are predicting will befall the Chinese economy.
In a day with little news otherwise, traders also seemed to delight in Wall Street's favorite parlor game -- guessing what the Fed will do next -- as they made allocation decisions.
Stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the day at 13,124.70, down 0.35 percent. The wider S&P 500 index was down 0.19 percent, to 1,402.90. The indexes spent most of the day close to the unchanged line, and dipped on the final minutes of trading, likely on traders closing out positions. The tech heavy Nasdaq index, which traded up .50 percent at one point in the late afternoon, also dropped dramatically, finishing the day at 3,075.32, just 4 basis points in the green.
Bonds. U.S. Treasuries rose for the second day in a row as market sentiment seemed to favor the belief the U.S. central bank will not engage in a new round of asset purchases. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note, which moves opposite its price, fell by 7.8 basis points to 2.294 percent.
Commodities. Gold futures were somewhat higher in a low-volume market. The most actively traded gold contract, for April delivery, rose $3.30, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $1,650.30. Gains were limited by investor's enthusiasm for stocks. Gold market traders were also taking into account news out of India, where higher import duties were proposed on gold. Crude prices rose on a surprise drop in U.S. inventories.
Currencies. The dollar was strong, somewhat limiting the gains of commodities and foreign currencies. Part of the dollar rally came as investors, wary of recent news out of China, sought to unload Asian currencies. The euro dropped to $1.3213, from $1.3225. The Australian dollar, a favorite hedge of currency traders, had a rough day, selling up .22 cents to $1.0458.